by Walter Simmons
PERSICHETTI: Pastoral. BARBER: Summer Music. I. FINE: Partita. CARTER: Quintet. A. BERGER: Quartet in C. BARROWS: March. Lieurance Woodwind Quintet. SUMMIT–DCD 149 [DDD]; 52:00. Produced by Nicholas E. Smith
MUCZYNSKI: Quintet. REICHA: Quintet in E-flat, Op. 100, No. 6. BACH-GRAHAM:Italian Concerto (Allegro; Allegro molto). HIDAS: Quintet No. 2. GALIMANY-PLESNICAR: Panama. WIEDOEFT-GRAHAM: Saxophobia. Northwind Quintet. MARK–MCD 1115 [DDD?); 76:28. Produced by David Rachor. (Available from University of Northern Iowa School of Music, Cedar Falls, Iowa 50614)
These two CDs serve to introduce the merits of two relatively young woodwind quintets based in the American Midwest. The Lieurance Quintet, in residence at Wichita State University in Kansas, has selected a program that concentrates on American neo-classicism, with music composed between 1941 and 1956, which pretty much denotes that style’s period of greatest popularity in this country. The Northwind Quintet, in residence at the University of Northern Iowa, has chosen to emphasize its versatility, with a program that reaches from Bach to Muczynski, leavened by some pops items. Both discs happen to be produced and annotated by members of their respective ensembles.
The coolness of timbre, clarity of texture, and perkiness of articulation endemic to the woodwind quintet are naturally suited to the aesthetic ideals of neo-classicism, as developed primarily by Igor Stravinsky, giving rise to a profusion of works far this medium created by composers who identified with the movement. Some pieces epitomize these ideals, some transcend them, but most simply recycle the clichés of the style. The Lieurance quintet manages to avoid the large latter category, featuring Chase American works that seem to have emerged as the must durable examples.
The Persichetti Pastoral and the Barber Summer Music are two pieces that transcend the limitations of neo-classicism, though each draws upon them — e.g., both pandiatonic harmony and a cool. outdoor quality — as points of departure. The Persichetti is one of that composer’s many miniature masterpieces, displaying in its barely five-minute duration a warm, ingenuous pantheism. The Barber is a longer and more involved work — really, a 12-minute tone poem — featuring a succession of short episodes that suggest in the composer’s typically nostalgic manner the casual, spontaneous, bucolic pleasures of the season.
The works by Carter, Fine, and Berger might be said to epitomize the aesthetic ideals of neo-classicism. Elliott Carter’s 1948 Quintet is a truly nifty piece, with moments that call both Hindemith and Copland to mind. In two sections, it is one of Carter’s most likable scores, with infectious rhythmic intricacies that prompt immediate rehearings. My only complaint is that its eight minutes go by too quickly. Irving Fine’s Partita, in five movements, is mare explicit in its indebtedness to Stravinsky than any of the other pieces presented here. But it too is a delightful work, with an engaging freshness and a dry warmth. Arthur Berger’s Quartet (minus French horn is bright, cheerful, and conceptually uncomplicated — somewhat closer to neo-classicism’s 18th-century roots, yet with a strongly American flavor.
As a composer, John Barrows does not belong in this discussion, although he was most highly regarded as a horn player. Indeed, he was a member of the New York Woodwind Quintet, which contributed to the establishment of most of these works as classics. Though not in their league, his 1947 March is a charming two-minute confection that is not at all unpleasant or incongruous in their company.
The Lieurance Quintet plays this altogether rewarding program with considerable expertise, if not the last word in refinement. Other excellent woodwind quintets — notably the Boehm on Premier and the Aulos on Koch — offer competition with similar recitals. Listeners who favor this music will probably want one of these discs in their collections.
The Northwind Quintet is not quite as polished a group as their Kansas neighbors, but they are accomplished players their highly varied program offers a few novelties that may draw the attention of some listeners.
One such item is the Woodwind Quintet of Robert Muczynski, heard here in its first recording. Though composed in 1985, its neo-classical style would place it among the pieces featured on the Summit disc reviewed above. Listeners who have come to appreciate the consistently high level of taste and craftsmanship displayed by this Arizona-based composer will not be disappointed by his entry into a field for which his stylistic and aesthetic proclivities would seem to make him a natural. Indeed, one is surprised that he waited so long in producing a work for this medium. Muczynski’s quintet is in three compact movements that add up to 12 minutes, and imbues what has become a conventional language with the composer’s own appealing personal qualities of rhythmic determination and a dark warmth of temperament.
The other major work is Anton Reicha’s 36-minute Quintet in E-flat, Op. 100, No. 6, believed to be the last of his 24 efforts this medium. A contemporary and early friend of Beethoven, Reicha established himself as a respected theorist and pedagogue, as well as a prolific composer. John Wiser, who is far more favorably disposed toward this period than I, recently characterized Reicha in these pages as, “an industrious but fitfully motivated formal tinkerer in full command of a conventional set of musico-linguistic resources” (17:2). I would echo that characterization, while adding that unexpected harmonic turns and some formal surprises elevate the music above the domain of utter banality inhabited by so many comparable pieces. Clarinetist Jack Graham’s arrangement of the outer movements of Bach’s Italian Concerto is certainly a novelty, with some rationale behind its conception. But the resulting performance makes it sound like the most difficult music on the disc, causing one to wonder whether the intended illumination of contrapuntal intricacy is truly achieved, after the expenditure of such considerable effort.
Frigyes Hidas (b. 1928) is a Hungarian musician with a wide range of practical involvements, including performing, conducting, and composing for both commercial and concert media. HisQuintet No. 2 dates from 1969 and appears with some regularity on concert programs. It is an extremely light, entertaining piece, very much influenced by American jazz of the 1920s.
Alberto Galimany was born in Spain, but moved to Panama, where he become a prominent local musical figure during the early of this century. This little suite of folktunes displays banality without redeeming adornment of any kind.
Saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft was something of a pop superstar of the period during and after World War I, when the instrument enjoyed a tremendous surge of popularity. A fast ragtime number that would be appropriate as accompaniment to a silent-film comedy clip,Saxophobia (1918) was Wiedoeft’s biggest hit, and a quaint period-piece it is. Transcribed for the ensemble by Graham, it features the impressive tonguing virtuosity of Barry, who serves as the group’s oboist and recording engineer, as well as saxophone soloist.